The peace and joy of a relaxing evening with close friends had been beckoning me all day. I was so eager for our Girls’ Night Out dinner party. I had the ingredients for my hot vegetable dish all ready to go, my chosen recipe waiting on the counter. The children were otherwise occupied so I could cook in peace. I had given myself some extra time to prepare, so I could enjoy the process stress-free. I minced two cloves of garlic, carefully scraping each extra bit out of the garlic press, not wanting to waste the tiniest morsel. I arranged and rearranged my eggplant slices so as to fit them all on two baking trays. Then I basted each slice individually with the pressed garlic and olive oil. The oven dinged to announce that it had reached the set temperature. I slid the two pans in, set the timer for fifteen minutes, and went to check email and facebook while it cooked.
Fifteen minutes later, I responded to the oven timer and emerged from the den into the kitchen. It was filled with smoke. I grabbed the pans of charred remains out of the oven and began opening windows. In my clattering and scurrying attempts to clear the air, my oblivious children finally noticed the smoke and remarked that that’s why they could barely see the TV anymore! They’re so helpful.
I tasted a bit of the eggplant that wasn’t completely reduced to soot. Not bad! But there certainly weren’t enough good pieces to feed six people. I did some quick thinking: did I have anything else that would make an acceptable hot vegetable dish? Nope. Nothing. Not unless I wanted to bring a big pan of fried onions. Okay, did I have enough time to run to the store and start again? Not really. But should I waste time looking for a different recipe that wouldn’t take as long and then still have to run to the store for the right ingredients? Think! Cough-cough. Think! I decided to stick with the eggplant plan and hope I could make it to the store and back uber-fast.
Being the responsible mother that I am, I threw a blanket on my kids on the couch and told them not to move until I got back. I jumped into my high-heeled boots as quickly as I could (because I was already in my nice Girls’ Night Out outfit and my slip-on runners would have looked stupid) and dashed out to the van. I made it to the store in record time, and ran through the parking lot. When I got inside, I slowed to a speed-walking pace. Take my word for it: speed-walking in high-heeled boots is neither a fun nor attractive way to get around a grocery store! I bolted through the produce section, grabbed an eggplant and bolted to the self-check-out lane. There was a register free, so it only took me a moment to pay and get on my speed-walking way.
Back at home, I peeled and sliced that baby with gusto (if not precision) and slapped the pieces on the pans that I assumed were still well-greased enough for my purposes. I pressed a couple more cloves of garlic into a couple of glugs of oil and poured it liberally over the haphazardly strewn eggplant slices. The oven didn’t take long to finish reheating, so I threw the pans back in the oven and set the timer for 12 minutes instead of 15. I gave up waiting before it dinged, and moved on to the next steps. When I finally popped the whole eggplant/cheese/tomato concoction back into the oven, I was quite pleased to discover that I might just pull this off! My dish would be ready only five minutes later than I’d originally planned, I would drive a little more “strategically”, and I could still get there in time! I celebrated with a few bites of the discarded eggplant that I hadn’t deemed worthy of my perfect dish. Yummy!
While it baked, I went upstairs to freshen up my makeup and brush my teeth – only to discover a huge piece of squishy, purple eggplant wedged prominently between my two front teeth. I had no idea if it was from the leftover pieces of eggplant I had just nibbled, or the couple of pieces I taste-tested before I ran out to the store. Yikes! Could it have been there when I was shopping? Fortunately, I was only in the store for a minute and I didn’t stop to talk to anyone. Unfortunately, on my way out of the store (still speed-walking, and now carrying an eggplant), there was a store employee taking a picture of a display. We didn’t notice each other until it was too late – I was already flashing him an apologetic smile as he snapped the picture. I’m sure he had a good chuckle about my grossness when he looked at the pictures later! Oh well, it’s not like I’ll ever see him again. But I sure am going to miss shopping at that store.
Now where do the top hats come in, you ask? I’m so glad you asked. Let me tell you. Someone decided it would be nice to shoot a movie in downtown Cambridge that night, so the streets that were open to traffic were literally jam-packed with traffic. But how nice that the long, long wait in said traffic allowed me ample time to sit and watch the activity on set – the lights, cameras, horses-drawn buggies, and cast members in period dress – including…you guessed it: top hats!